- Posted July 20, 2014 by
Glen Echo, Maryland
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Vintage theme parks
Fun Times at Glen Echo Park
- Jareen, CNN iReport producer
Here’s the history of the park, in a nutshell.
In 1890, two brothers – Edward and Edwin Baltzley developed a parcel of land located just a short distance away from the nation’s capital. The new housing community, nestled in the woodlands alongside the C&O canal was named Glen Echo.
In 1891, Glen Echo became the site of the 53rd Chautauqua Assembly, an educational summer camp that offered courses in liberal and practical arts.
From the late 1890’s until 1968, Glen Echo evolved into popular amusement park. In the early years, there as a carousel, bowling, a pony track, shooting galleries, boating and a dance pavilion. To compete with nearby parks, an assortment of electric rides was added including two roller coasters - the Hydraulic Dive for the less adventurous riders and The Dip for the more daring. In 1904, a new larger carousel was installed, as well as an innovative ride called the Gyroplane.
To keep up with competition, more attractions were added in 1911 including a marine toboggan, a miniature railway, a Ferris wheel and a new boating pavilion on the banks of the C&O Canal. There was also an amusement arcade housing a shooting gallery and skeeball area. Sounds very much like a predecessor to the modern day amusement parks!
In 1921, the gem of Glen Echo was installed – the beautiful carousel, built by the Dentzel Co. of Philadelphia. The new carrousel featured horses, giraffes, rabbits, ostriches, a lion, a deer and two chariots. The Dentzel is truly a treasure as only a few remain in the world and this is one of the only ones still operating in its original location.
The Art Deco style of Glen Echo was born in 1931 when the Crystal Pool was built. The pool could easily accommodate 3000 swimmers and featured a real beach. Following the Crystal Pool, older buildings were given Art Deco facades, including the bumper car building, which was been installed in 1923. All that remains of the pool today is the front entry façade; the original pool was filled in and is now a children’s playground.
In 1933, the Spanish Ballroom was built, and its 7,500 square foot dance floor was a hit from the beginning and is still a popular dance venue today. Back in its heyday, the ballroom accommodate for 1800 dances but in accordance with modern day fire codes, the capacity is 870. This beautifully restored Mediterranean-style Art Deco building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered one of the best dance halls on the east coast.
Up until it closed operations Glen Echo continued to be renovated and to be innovative– in part to keep up with competition and in part to keep up with the times. As fast food became ingrained in the American culture, restaurants were built along with the fast food booths and as patrons became more about thrill seeking, faster rides were introduced.
But eventually, it all came to an end and in 1970, the park was acquired by the US Federal Government and following year, the National Park Service reopened Glen Echo as an arts park which it remains as today.
By the time the park fell under the auspices of the National Park Service, all the rides except for the Dentzel Carousel, had all been sold off. The buildings remained but were repurposed and renovated to accommodate for classes, workshops and performances. Additionally, the amusement arcade became a home for Adventure Theater, an adult run theater for children; the ballroom was used for dance classes; the Tower morphed into an art gallery and the old cafe kitchen housed a graphics workshop. The Bumper Car and Cuddle Up Pavilions, which used to house bumper cars and tea cup rides, respectively, are now both performance venues.
The park supports several artists in residence. To provide studio space for the artists, six large yurts were found in storage from a canceled Washington festival and erected on the site of the demolished roller coaster.
I will always have a soft spot for this small, unassuming park. I’ve been coming to Glen Echo ever since I was a young child. Back then it was mainly to ride the carousel; now it’s to take advantage of the wide range of classes and workshops that it has to offer – everything from ceramics, enameling, spinning, weaving, photography, drawing, painting, mixed media, fabric decorating, leather working, framing, sculpture, and silk screening to drama, dance, music, and yoga.
In some ways, I wish I had been around to enjoy Glen Echo in its heyday as I know I would have loved going on all the rides but I’m thankful for the great arts park that it is now and I hope to enjoy it for years to come!
Images 1, 3, and 10. Dentzel Carousel
Image 2. Original entrance to the park.
Images 4 and 5. The original amusement arcade, now occupied by art galleries and theaters.
Image 6. Original entry to the Crystal Pool.
Image 7. Cuddle Up Pavilion
Image 8. Bumper Car Pavilion.
Image 9. Spanish Ballroom.